Making merry in Manchester: what to do outside Conservative Party Conference
Here's what to enjoy in Manchester outside the conference centre | Illustration: Tracy Worrall
6 min read
Ah, Manchester – the home of two football clubs, a legendary music scene and of course the Rovers Return. Laurence Sleator recommends delegates venture beyond the conference hall and explore one of the North’s most compelling cities.
The last time Boris Johnson stepped foot in the Midland Hotel in Manchester he was a Prime Minister under siege. He had no majority, no Brexit deal and was reeling after being dragged back to Parliament by the Supreme Court.
Two years and one thumping election victory later, he and his Conservative Party foot soldiers return to Cottonopolis for this year’s Party Conference in a much more buoyant and upbeat mood.
As ever, the customary ring of steel will encircle the conference venue but if attendees step outside they will find a thriving, modern city with plush high-rise apartment blocks and grand offices dominating the skyline, inhabited by a fun-loving, young population enjoying all Manchester has to offer.
As Stone Roses front man Ian Brown once remarked: “Manchester’s got everything, except a beach…” So let The House guide you through the best spots.
With this year’s Conference being a hybrid event, Zooming into interesting – and not so interesting – events whilst doing other things is a real possibility. So turn the camera off, put the mic on mute and go looking round the city.
Visit a library
Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, Manchester Central Library forms the centrepiece of St Peter’s Square right in the heart of the city centre and is, crucially, right next to the Conference venue.
Those seeking respite from party members upset over the Planning Bill can escape to the imposing reading room to browse through texts ranging from the complete works of Elizabeth Gaskell to the Alan Duncan diaries.
In nearby Deansgate, visitors can book a free tour of the John Rylands Library. The Victorian gothic architecture is more reminiscent of an ornate cathedral and inside it holds the oldest known piece of the New Testament and a 15th century edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Head to a museum or gallery
From the life and times of local hero Alan Turing to the shirt Sir Geoff Hurst was wearing during the 1966 World Cup Final, Manchester has every cultural enthusiasm catered for.
The Science and Industry Museum; the People’s History Museum; the National Football Museum; the Whitworth Art Gallery; or Imperial War Museum North should all pique interest.
But there is bad news for fans of Gail Platt and Roy Cropper. The Coronation Street tour, which includes a trip to the famous Rovers Return, will not be running again until spring 2022.
Get to a gig
Manchester and live music go together like Margaret Thatcher and Willie Whitelaw.
Venues including the Albert Hall, the Deaf Institute and the Castle Hotel hosted the likes of Oasis, The Smiths, and New Order during their early years. Manchester has a serious music pedigree.
We know Manchester is sport mad, so getting involved is the only way to soak up the atmosphere and enthusiasm of the city.
Red vs Blue
Manchester is of course known for its red vs blue rivalry and, whether City or United, fans travel from across the world to see their mega stadiums up close.
Manchester United play Everton at home, so catching a game is a possibility if you’re quick.
Get on the velodrome
Jason and Laura Kenny’s exploits in Japan have inspired many to get on their bike, to quote Norman Tebbit, so where better to go than the place they trained to become champions?
Manchester is home to the National Cycling Centre which, at some stage, has honed almost all Great Britain’s Olympic and Tour de France champions. Taster sessions on the track start from £17.50.
BARS AND NIGHTLIFE
If sipping on warm white wine at a business reception doesn’t sound appealing, Manchester has plenty of trendy offerings which go late into the early hours.
Running adjacent to the Rochdale Canal inside Manchester’s gay village, stumble into any of the plethora of the bars and it’s impossible not to have a good time in one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world.
The pedestrianised street is home to some of the country’s best drag hosts, theme nights from Abba to Britney and the most exotic – and strongest – cocktails in the city.
Fun fact: though now defunct, back in 2009 the street’s Spirit Bar hosted the first ever official LGBT Conservative event, organised by then-shadow equalities minister Theresa May.
Escape to Freight Island
Built out of an old freight depot, this new, chic, urban market hosts DJs, live bands, comedy gigs every night of the week, with chefs cooking every type of cuisine thinkable.
A specialist wine bar will keep the sommeliers happy while craft beer hipsters can enjoy the brew of Salford’s Pomona Island, who are partnered with the venue. Andy Burnham has been spotted here.
Along Thomas St and Edge St, Cane & Grain provides cocktails and sing-along indie tunes for those fresh from Conference karaoke. Sit on the roof at the Terrace NQ until late or make the most of the £5 pints and £6 cocktails during the happy hour at Common bar.
A four-minute walk away, Stevenson Square has more bars than it is humanly possible to visit, with The Corner Boy, Flok and NoHo particular highlights.
Manchester has one of the UK’s best food scenes, with the comfortable ambiance of many places perfect for schmoozing dignitaries or plotting the next leadership campaign.
Federal Café and Bar
If the hotel breakfast is proving inadequate, a trip to this Australian-inspired brunch restaurant on Deansgate is a must. Latte art, homemade cakes and halloumi and avocado on toast are all served Instagram ready – much to the foreign secretary’s relief.
El Gato Negro
Popular with footballers, especially Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, this high-end tapas restaurant on King Street has established a cult following.
Spread across three floors, the restaurant has hoovered up awards, recently winning the Bib Gourmand award for the third time for providing “exceptionally good food at moderate prices” – a blessing after a long, and expensive, conference.
Just off Manchester’s famous Oxford Road, this Chinese restaurant serves three different dishes across three floors. In the basement sits a rice and noodle bar, on the ground floor a cook it yourself Chinese hot spot station, and a Chinese seafood BBQ on the top. Individually-portioned food rotates on a conveyor belt, leaving it up to you what you throw on your BBQ or in your hotpot.
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